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In her latest book, Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks sets herself the daunting challenge of portraying one of the most heroic yet morally troubling figures in the entire corpus of Jewish literature. ROS: Your portrayal of the prophet Natan is extraordinarily compelling, delving into the strange psychology and interior landscape of the Biblical prophet as a figure of moral conscience, his perpetual loneliness and sense of apartness in spite of being in the very midst of things. ROS: I found your depiction of the ancient landscape wholly convincing, a truly immersive environment. GB: For the sheep herding, we were at a Biblical reserve in the Shefala, founded by Ben Gurion, where the flora and fauna have, as far as possible, been returned to the species that prevailed as described in Biblical times. The imaginative challenge in my writing was de-populating the landscape, since only 45,000 people are thought to have lived in the area conjecturally associated with David’s kingdom, opposed to some four million or more in that same area today.
She shared her experience researching, concocting, and writing The Secret Chord: A Novel with Jewish Book Council. They are all such distinctive and engaging characters, each with disparate emotional and intellectual responses to their circumstances. Especially, I drew on those memories as I considered the vivid stories of David’s wives. So I thought about women I had reported on, women like Queen Noor in Jordan and Ayatollah Khomeini’s wife in Iran.
You have mentioned spending some time hiking with your son (and herding sheep) in the Judean desert and so on, but was there more research involved? I also had to mentally re-vegetate it: the Ottomans had a tree tax, so massive land clearing happened under their occupation in that era.
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As I thought about Bathsheva at David’s deathbed, maneuvering to get her young son Solomon on the throne, I thought of Queen Noor at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, as King Hussein lay ill with cancer. That reminded me of a strange afternoon when I was invited to tea by Ayatollah Khomenini’s widow. There are givens: the ferocious bravery of such a person, the willingness to speak truth to power, the unsettling nature of the one who stands outside, but sees inside. We also went to a Bedouin settlement where you can experience a tent encampment not so very different from the living conditions of David’s outlaw years.


She told me that day how she had managed to marry a guy who was then an impoverished religious scholar with no prospects.
We visited archeological digs to get a more accurate sense of the material culture of the Second Iron Age—what was a palace in those days? Khadijeh was just a girl, fully veiled in her chador, when she took in the tea tray and managed to catch a glimpse of her would be suitor, the young Ruhollah Kohmenini.
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In the morning, she told her father that she had seen Ruhollah meeting with all the great prophets of Islam. The Secret Chord provides new context for some of the best-known episodes of David’s life while also focusing on others, even more remarkable and emotionally intense, which have been neglected. Yet David’s wives do have names, and they have distinct personalities and backstories.
We see David through the eyes of those who love him or fear him—but not without fratricide and treason. Shapiro Sarah Gershman Robert Service Jewish Museum Lenore Weiss Russ & Daughters Bel Kaufman John Benditt Judith Frank Seth A.
So, there were plenty of lessons about how you wield private power in a society that publicly barely acknowledges you.


These women lead precarious lives in a society that gives them no evident power and few rights.
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